Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing”, 1.02 “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”

Welcome to blog post #2 about my recaps & misogyny tracking for “The West Wing”! Here is the list of things we’re watching out for!

  1. Physical comedy is used to undercut a female character’s competence.
  2. A female character’s sexual appeal or sexual/romantic relationship with a male character is primary.
  3. A female character displays “feistiness”. “Feistiness” is a frequent shorthand in liberal misogyny for “See? She’s strong and independent and we find that adorable! What’s the problem?”
  4. Femininity or feminine concerns are disparaged, by male or female characters.
  5. Any character is rude to his/her female subordinate with no consequences.
  6. A male character is lauded and glorified in an unlikely way by a female character or characters.
  7. A female character screws up at her job.
  8. Anger coming from a female character is unreasonable or mysterious, either to the audience or to another character.
  9. A female character plays the Exposition Fairy. Note: Having Exposition Fairies is not in and of itself a problem. It’s necessary in most fiction. But in The West Wing, the Fairy is almost always a female character, and is almost always asking a male character for explanation, and would almost always certainly know the information she’s asking for, so that the fact that she’s asking indicates that she’s not that good at her job.
  10. An episode goes by that does not pass the Bechdel test.

And,

!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it.

As a reminder, I will be scoring each episode in terms of its misogyny. One point for every item on the list, and a negative point for every counter-example, for instance, when a male character plays Exposition Fairy. Also as a reminder, for item 7, the screw-up has to be a genuine screw-up, not a “Well, it might look bad to others but it was noble!” screw-up.

Ready for maybe the first episode on television to be named a phrase in Latin (citation for this totally unresearched claim needed)? Here we go!

Our first scene after the previouslys contains such an extreme amount of Mandy feistiness I feel like I need to pepper this paragraph with 3s. And you know what? It’s my blog; I think I will. Mandy is aggravated in traffic and honking her horn and looking around the windshield. 3. Mandy drives up on the sidewalk, perpendicular to a parallel parking spot. 3. She starts shouting at Lloyd Russell, her client/boyfriend who she was going to help take the presidency from our man Jed Bartlett. for the level of “feist” displayed in this interaction, what with the “Are you crazy?” and the shoulder-punching. He and his henchmen are condescending and rude to her while explaining that they’re keeping some bill he likes in committee until after the mid-terms in exchange for letting him make a big speech at the nominating convention. Also 8 because this whole time Lloyd and his boys are perfectly calm and all, “There, there, crazy lady,” while she’s screaming. BTW, it is not at all clear from this scene that Lloyd and Mandy have a romantic relationship, which is odd because such a big deal was made of the romantic relationship the week before. Anyway, a Random Dude plays Exposition Fairy, asking Mandy if she’s alright and prompting her explanation of what’s going on, but I’m not giving it a -9 because she’s not explaining, like, what taxes are. She’s just explaining her life. And telling us stuff we already know from the last episode (she had a big important job in the private sector) and from two minutes ago. Also she yells at one of the dudes for getting opera trivia wrong, and I’d say it’s a little elitist and show-offy, but really, you didn’t know Wagner is not an Italian name, doofus? And she’s screaming at Random Dude and Random Dude rolls his eyes and walks off in the middle of the conversation. Women, amirite? 8. Then Lloyd leads her off away from my henchmen, where they continue to display all the intimacy and chemistry of two blades of grass, and he condescendingly tells her that the job for which he hired her, the job for which he lured her away from her very high six figures, was always a fool’s errand. Then why’d you hire her, d-bag? Then he tells her she has “spunk,” like, for real, so 3. She threatens to kill him with her shoe. 3. Then she says that the worst part is knowing how her ex-coworkers/ex-boyfriend are going to be gloating over this. Really, Mandy? The worst part isn’t how you don’t have a job anymore and your boyfriend/client was just jerking you around? Okay. Lloyd mansplains that they will of course not be gloating, despite the fact that Mandy actually worked with these people for, like, a year. 5. It strikes me that the very concept of “mansplaining” might never have gotten the traction it did if not for Aaron Sorkin. 

Misogyny Points Thus Far: (Wow, this is going to make it a lot easier to score)

Anyway, of course Josh is gloating. Josh gloats when he’s in the wrong; imagine how insufferable he is when he’s done something right. He declares, “I drink from the Keg of Glory, Donna,” and demands she bring him “the finest bagels and muffins in the land.” She notes that it’s going to be “an unbearable day.” -5? No. Because Josh is not even paying attention to her, and if a rude comment falls on a blockhead and he fails to hear, it did not make a sound. Staff clap for him, which I wanted to give a 6, but it’s probably not unrealistic.

After the credits, Toby and C.J. walk and talk about a group declining to have their photograph taken with the president because of some joke we don’t know about yet and how they “need somebody”. Toby is incredulous but not rude to C.J. and their patter is just a little !.

Toby asks Mrs. Landingham if the president has free time and Mrs. Landingham replies, “The president has nothing but free time, Toby. Right now he’s in the residence eating Cheerios and enjoying Regis and Kathy Lee.” Snerk, and also -5 but then Toby earns it right back with a rude comment about Mrs. Landingham’s age 5 which he then retracts -5. Then Mrs. Landingham denies him a cookie and offers Sam one. -5. Sam comes in and they all talk some more about the joke that we don’t know about yet. Josh comes in gloating and gets filled in on the joke as senior staff head into the Oval Office. Leo and the president approach the Oval Office from another angle and they tell us what our plotlines for the episode are. Josh reports his successful victory over Mandy. We learn that the Ryder Cup team – which C.J. helpfully explains is a group of golfers, which I probably should have known but didn’t – is the group not posing with the president because of the joke, and the president is rejects the idea that discussing his sense of humor might be necessary at this juncture. 4. C.J. points out that there was also a Texas joke that cost them the state in the elections, both primary and the general election. The president accuses her of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” thinking and only Leo knows it means “One thing follows another, therefore one thing causes another,” which is a logical fallacy. (BTW, the poster I just linked would make an EXCELLENT present for me.) The president claims it was not the hat joke that lost him Texas and C.J. correctly guesses that it’s the being able to speak Latin thing. So either he’s saying Republicans are anti-intellectual (which many of them are), and ignoring the fact that he also lost the primary, or he’s saying Texans on the right AND left are anti-intellectual. I guess that’s possible but it’s kind of snotty, anyway.

MPTF: 8

A man in Navy uniform is greeted by Mrs. Landingham and then Leo as he comes out of the Oval with the rest of the staff. His name is Morris Tolliver and Leo steers him away from some more walking and talking. Morris Tolliver has recently had a baby and has a photograph to show Leo. Not a picture on a smartphone, kids, but an actual, printed-out photograph. Margaret, Leo’s assistant, comes out to reproach Leo for not giving her some information about a meeting she needed and Leo disgustedly throws the baby picture at her to distract her, the way you’d throw a treat to a dog. 5 for dismissing the concerns of her job and 4 for the “Chicks love babies” sentiment when Leo is the one who asked for the picture of the baby. And an extra 4 for the way the distraction is successful and Margaret coos at the picture.

MPTF: 11

Leo tells Morris Tolliver that even though he was just the substitute doctor the president likes him and wants to keep him on. Morris Tolliver says he’d like that but he’s leaving for Jordan for a week in a few hours. If you’re curious, military doctors are the ones who provide care for the president and the president’s family and everyone, and they do tend to be Navy.

We’re outside watching Mandy’s car get towed, although I don’t think it’s parked where it was before. Mandy goes into her office to tell her assistant that they don’t have a client anymore. Her assistant is perturbed and Mandy is keeping it peppy and feisty 3. Mandy is also being elitist and snotty. 5. By the way, Mandy’s assistant is female and they just spent a few minutes talking about their jobs, so even though their job was Lloyd Russell, a man, I’m going to go ahead and declare the Bechdel test passed for an episode! -10!

MPTF: 12

Donna informs Josh that he’s lost a football pool she played on his behalf, and stupidly. Women! They understand neither football nor betting! I’m going to give this a 7 even though it’s not technically her job to enter football pools on Josh’s behalf. If women continue to screw up in non-job related ways, I’ll add an item.

MPTF: 13

Josh finds Toby and they walk-and-talk about the various incidents, like the Ryder cup team refusing a picture because of a joke, that mean they need a new media director. Josh and Toby plan to gang up on Leo about this and Josh asks that it be anyone but Mandy. So there’s your super-obvious projection of a plot point right there. Your Chekhov’s Pager for this episode, if you will.

Josh departs and Toby keeps walking, picking up C.J. as his new ambulatory conversation partner. Toby advises that she uses the humor of the Ryder Cup thing to her advantage and C.J. heads into the press room. A journalist asks about a quote he has from the Vice President on some bill we don’t know about. Apparently the veep said, “This is a time when the president needs our support.” The journalist feels that the language sounds strained and C.J. and Toby exchange significant looks (!) and I will tell you the truth; to this day I have no idea what in the hell is going on with this plot line. I don’t know why it’s weird that the vice president said that; I don’t know why the whole of the White House seems to think it’s a BFD. But I am slow and naive. Anyway, just as Toby advised, C.J. skims over the question and throws up the Ryder Cup thing in defense. Then she and Toby exchange another, totally ! look.

Josh watches C.J. on screen and Sam approaches. They make much of the vice-president’s quote and then make light of C.J.’s deft handling of it by acting as if it was the obvious thing to do. I think I’ll go with a 5 here. They discuss whether Leo should be made aware of this or not, deciding that the answer is not. Sam acts all goofy about coming to see Josh and then, in an office with an open door and tons of staff buzzing about outside, Sam tells Josh he accidentally slept with a prostitute. Also, her name is Laurie. So now you know. Josh is concerned. Sam is trying to brush off his concerns so that he can make friends and reform his prostitute friend. I’m sure the idea of “reforming” a woman who has chosen to make her living with sex work is misogynist but I can’t figure out which item to put it under and it’s terribly specific to this one situation. Donna drops by like your annoying little sister wanting to gossip. Ugh, women, amirite? 4. Josh kicks her out then tells Sam to talk to Toby and rushes after C.J.

MPTF: 15

C.J. is pissed about the vice president and while I still don’t understand why, the other characters do, so no 8. The vice president is speaking stilted French to some dude in a suit while a bunch of people take pictures. The person I have to assume is the vice president’s Leo tries to brush C.J. off. Actually, now that I think of it, that person is more likely the vice president’s C.J. C.J. tries to walk and talk with the vice president, and, despite her anger, is being very deferential and polite, but he’s also brushing her off. He’s being rude to a female subordinate, so 5, but a soft 5, because I don’t think he feels comfortable being rude to her because she’s a woman. I think he’s being rude because she’s there from the president’s office. I’m still giving the point, because she is a woman and subordinate, although not directly, and he’s being rude to her.

MPTF: 16

The president is in the Oval with his doctor, making adorably terrible grandpa jokes. We learn Morris Tolliver is going to Jordan to do something regarding a teaching hospital. More talk about his 10-day-old baby and that ancient technology known as a “photograph.” Morris Tolliver wants President Bartlett to cut back on red meat, dairy, and Scotch, so . . . all the fun stuff, really. President Bartlett starts talking to Morris as if he’s his barber or bartender. The president reveals that he’s uncomfortable with the military because he’s a peacenik who doesn’t feel violence toward his enemies, and Morris reassures him that he’s the commander-in-chief and also a smart guy. Morris preps a flu shot for him and the president jokes that it might not be the flu shot, it might be the start of a coup, and he wants the Secret Service in there right away. Morris gets in the line of the night – maybe the line of the series – when he says, “In the event of a military coup, sir, what makes you think the Secret Service is going to be on your side?”

Donna asks Josh about the next week’s football game and he dismisses her. 5. C.J. comes by and they walk and talk. C.J. insists that her talk with the veep went fine even though it does not appear that it did although, like I said, I don’t understand this plot. Josh reminds her that he wants anyone but Mandy for new media director, in case we didn’t already get where this was going.

MPTF: 17

Mandy is drunk and bragging about her education to her assistant. So more Bechdel test passing. But it’s just a one-point-per-episode thing. But Mandy does continue to be “feisty,” even with no male present, so 3.

MPTF: 18

Sam comes out of his office to give his assistant a finished speech that he then adorkably checks over one more time. Then he ducks into Toby’s office to tell him that he accidentally slept with a prostitute. Toby gives a fantastic pause and then says. “I don’t understand, did you trip over something?” Which ought to be the line of the night except that the Secret Service thing happened. Toby determines that Sam didn’t pay her, because OF COURSE Sam doesn’t get charged by the high-priced call girl. I want to give a 6 but I don’t want to deny Laurie’s right to have the sex of her choice when she’s off hours, and Rob Lowe is hella hot, even if my . . . heart . . . only responds to Toby, so I won’t. Toby also determines that Sam will want to reform her, and Sam gets up on his high horse about how he shouldn’t be judged for hanging out with her. We’ll hear a lot more of this in episodes to come.

The gang gathers in Leo’s office where it becomes clear very quickly that Leo was already on board with hiring a new media director and this was all really just to ambush Josh by immediately approving the hiring of Mandy. Josh insists many times that Mandy answers to Toby and to Josh. So now in the future when Josh is snotty to her we can give it a 5. And he will be.

Leo stops C.J. on her way out and C.J. continues to pretend everything is fine. Leo pretends to buy it.

The president is ready to go home. He discovers that Mrs. Landingham has confiscated some steaks that a delegation from the University of Nebraska left for him. She insists it’s doctor’s orders. Neither of them is particularly rude to each other. The president is annoyed but joke-y, and Mrs. Landingham can hold her own. The president wonders, if he has her and Morris Tolliver, what he needs a wife or a mother for? Because wives and mothers are the same, right? And their job is to annoy you with their trying to care for your health? 4. 

MPTF: 19

Mandy and Daisy continue to bemoan their lack of clients when Josh busts in and suggests, arrogantly and obnoxiously, that they come work for the president. Mandy pretends to be grateful and then punches him in the shoulder. 3. Listen, writers everywhere. Women punching men is not cute just like men punching women is not cute. Cut it out. Daisy is extraordinarily grateful and nice, so much so that I’m throwing up a 6 because even though this is a lifeline for her, she’s still over-the-top, to contrast Mandy’s continued feistiness 3. Josh tells her about his chain of command and she says, “In your dreams,” so 3 again. Basically every line Mandy speaks and every move she makes is a 3.

MPTF: 23

Margaret ducks into Leo’s office to announce the vice president and they are cordial enough for two minutes until Leo asks about his conversation with C.J. and the veep gets snotty. Leo calls C.J. a “good girl” for not telling him that the veep was rude, so 5. It becomes very clear that the vice president has a beef with the White House in general, so I’m still reluctant to give his earlier rudeness to C.J. a 5, but with this whole Leo-as-white-knight thing, I’m not comfortable taking it away.

MPTF: 24

Sam enters some swanky bar looking for Laurie. When he finds her at a table with two men and one woman who is presumably also an escort, he proceeds to get dangerously rude and weird and threatening. He introduces himself by his real name to the random dudes at her table and then threatens to call the attorney general. Laurie pulls him the fuck out of there but quick.

She’s furious with him and he’s clueless, asking her why she didn’t return his calls and offering to reimburse her for her fees that night. She storms away and he follows her because Aaron Sorkin also contributed to the idea of the Nice Guy. Then he tries to start a normal conversation with her about his day but she’s not having it, telling him she doesn’t need saving. He doesn’t care; he’s going to anyway. She eventually softens, for reasons passing my understanding. I think it’s when he tells her he doesn’t intend to sleep with her. This scene is so many kinds of wrong that I’m going to throw every number I can find at it. 3, 4, 6 (because his attitude doesn’t warrant her easy forgiveness), 8. If I could find more numbers, I would. What’s more, we haven’t seen Sam be this obnoxious before. In fact, he’s been the more awkward and sweeter of all the staff. So either Aaron Sorkin doesn’t realize this is obnoxious, or this scene is mirroring something Aaron Sorkin’s own life that he’s trying to justify, making Sam the Aaron Sorkin avatar that’s usually Josh’s job. Either way, seriously off-putting and misogynist scene.

MPTF: 28

A chyron tells us it’s 3:35 am and some part of the West Wing is abustle. That can’t be good. President Bartlett strides down his, like, outdoor hallway? in his sweatshirt. Josh, Toby, and Sam are with Leo and some military dudes. Then Leo leaves them to go talk to the president. Morris Tolliver is dead, along with several colleagues. The plane he was taking to Jordan was shot down by the Syrian defense ministry. The president is calm but terribly sad, and also, has lost his distaste for violence. He promises Leo, “I’m going to blow them off the face of the earth with the fury of God’s own thunder.” Leo does not look pleased by this promise.

Misogyny score: 28. Mainly due to the extreme feistiness of Mandy and that last awful scene. I mean, with Sam and the prostitute. Not the one that was a well-done but sad scene to set up the next episode.

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